Monthly Archives: October 2014

Vmware Workstation

I wanted to write a short post about Vmware Workstation . This is an amazing piece of software that enables you to virtualize different operating systems. The way it works is you create a virtual machine for your specific OS, allocate ressources from your computer, install the OS, and here you go.

Here is a screenshot of the virtual machines on my file server for now :

Workstation

Macrium Backup

I did a lot of research to find a reliable and easy solution for backup software, and my requirements were pretty basic, I want the file server to backup the OS partition to a dedicated hard drive on the file server, and the other computers in the house to backup via the network to the file server.I wanted also an easy way to write scripts for automated scheduled backup as well as emails in case the backups failed.

I was absolutely not going to backup in the cloud. It is very expensive for what it is, I do not trust most of those services for long-term service, price, sensitivity of the information or encryption.

I thought that my journey to find a good and reliable backup software would be a lot easier, it was anything but easy.

I read several articles on the internet and discarded rbackup and associated Linux solutions immediately because I couldn’t find a nice GUI. I then focused my attention on the Windows based solution to backup my Windows machines.

Norton was out of the question for obvious reasons.

I was very interested by Acronis True Image, but I soon become disillusioned… I installed it in a virtual machine (Thanks Vmware Workstation) and realized very quickly that the software had some fatal flaws. I had a really hard uninstalling this software, and the backup all the time feature is the best way to crash your backup. I then read the stories on the Acronis forums, and it is full of stories of backup that when used at the critical time just didn’t work. I would have been extremely frustrated.

I tried also Paragon Backup And Recovery Home, it looked very good but i got very disappointed with a lacking feature : the easy creation of scripts to automate the backups.

I, then tried Macrium Reflect Backup and this software had all my requirements. Macrium has a very nice GUI, as well as the possiblity to schedule backups very easily and it creates the scripts and sends emails if the backup fails. I personally choose to save the backup definition files on the hard drive where the backups are stored. Here are a couple of screenshots :

macrium1

macrium2

macrium3

OS For File Server

I did a lot of research to find what would be the most practical operating system for the file server, looking at the maintenance and application standpoints. My requirements were to have an easy system to maintain, be able to install other applications on it, as well as a system that could manage a RAID1 efficiently (meaning I want a full image of the data). If I were to loose a hard drive, I wanted to still have the data.

I won’t get into the discussion/debate about if RAID is actually a backup. I was especially concerned about having the RAID being managed by the motherboard because if your motherboard dies, you have lost your Data !!! True RAID Controllers are very expensive and I did not trust the Fake-RAID cards. I therefore decided to go the software RAID route.

The best two options that I found are :

I rejected FreeNas because of Unix and the very few applications it provides (yes they are some plugins but they are limited).

Openmediavault is a Linux Debian-based distribution very well done and well thought. It is still young but progressing very quickly. It is a Linux so you can install about anything you can install on a Debian.

Windows 7 present some very nice features and applications due to the Windows environment but one thing I was very interesting in is the fact that you can put two hard drives in a software RAID 1 managed by Windows.  The features that really seduced me was the portability of the RAID1 (dynamic disk) for Windows. You can transfer the hard drives to an other Windows computer, and you can manage the RAID on the other computer. This is done very nicely via a GUI and this was a huge plus for me.

I therefore decided to go the Windows 7 route, and here is what it looks like.

Windows RAID1

File Server

I did a lot of research about a year ago to build a file server and to find the best thing for my usage.

My basic requirements were :

  • Low power usage, because it will run 24/7.
  • Easy administration
  • 3 or 4 hard drives
  • Run some virtual machines

I first looked at Network Attached Storage (NAS). The two main good companies for power users are QNAP and Synology.

While those products are quite good, they are quite expensive for the limited functionality they provide. By the time you bought it and the hard drives, the price is similar to a mini server you built on your own.

Yes, they can do ftp, http, etc, but if you want to install a special software or have also multiple virtual machines run, it is impossible to do it.

Concerning QNAP, I especially disliked the fact that the software RAID they use on their Linux is not the typical Linux RAID, meaning if it fails and you put the hard drives on a Linux computer, you are toasted. The hardware is better at QNAP but the software is better at Synology. On top of that, a lot of the NAS model have a Freescale or ARM processor, which makes the modification of the Linux very difficult with a need to cross compile for ARM. Some NAS are now running on x86, which is nice. One aspect that was also seriously aggravating me is that those companies use GPL code for their product, but only give you some sources sometimes and do not tell you how they compile their softwares !!!

I therefore decided to build my own server (the price being quite similar) and install either a Linux or a Windows. This will be detailed in an other post.

The server has the following parts :

Cost: 860 $

For the storage, I have one hard drive dedicated to store the backups of all the computers we possess, and two hard drives in RAID1 for the files.

The server is on idle most of the time, and consumes 36W idle.